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Sikorsky celebrates battle-tested Black Hawk as helicopter turns 40

A UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter hovers while a wall of fire burns during the South Carolina National Guard Air and Ground Expo combined arms demonstration at McEntire Joint National Guard Base, South Carolina, May 7, 2017. (Tech. Sgt. Nicole Szews/U.S. Air National Guard)

Sikorsky Aircraft on Wednesday celebrated the 40th anniversary of the Black Hawk helicopter, a workhorse in wartime that’s become a household name.

But entering middle age, the Black Hawk may encounter less military action as the U.S. shifts strategy by leaving the battlefields of Afghanistan and Iraq.

“Sikorsky is the company it is today because of the Black Hawk,” company President Dan Schultz said.

With more than 4,000 helicopters in service, the Black Hawk “continues to deliver on critical missions when reliability and performance are non-negotiable,” he said.

Executives of parent company Lockheed Martin Corp. and the Defense Department celebrated the Black Hawk with cake and speeches at Sikorsky’s headquarters in Stratford where certain components, such as transmissions and rotorheads, are built.

The helicopter program has generated billions in revenue for Lockheed Martin and its previous owner, United Technologies Corp., which sold Sikorsky to the Bethesda, Md., defense contractor for $9 billion in 2015.

Lockheed Martin’s rotary and mission systems business, of which Sikorsky is a part, generated net sales of $14.2 billion in 2017, or 28 percent of total consolidated net sales, the company said.

Recently, Lockheed Martin said it won a five-year contract for 257 Black Hawks to be delivered to the U.S. Army and overseas customers, with a contract value of about $3.8 billion. It includes options for an additional 103 aircraft, with the total contract value potentially reaching $5.2 billion.

The Black Hawk, a workhorse that’s been used to ferry soldiers on and off battlefields in Afghanistan and Iraq, follows the Comanche attack helicopter that the Pentagon ended in 2004.

“In short, thanks to Comanche’s death, and the wars, it looks like Sikorsky has enjoyed an embarrassment of riches,” Richard Aboulafia, vice president for analysis at Teal Group, a Fairfax, Va., industry analysis firm, wrote in a March paper. “But the good times are slowly coming to an end.”

The Black Hawk’s MH-60M “played a starring role in the Bin Laden raid,” he said, referring to the May 2011 raid into Pakistan that resulted in the execution of 9/11 mastermind Osama Bin Laden.

“Advertising like that money can’t buy, even if that variant isn’t for sale,” Aboulafia said. “But despite this optimistic outlook, numbers are trending downward. The immediate requirements of Iraq and Afghanistan are going away.”

As a result, the Army is planning to “drastically slow the pace of acquisition” following the federal government’s 2018 budget year, he said.

Beyond a modernization program, “there’s a lot of doubt about a replacement growth model,” he said.

The military may choose new helicopters or a next-generation craft, Aboulafia said. “Either way, the Army gets what it needs. And so does Sikorsky.”

Sikorsky announced in August it’s cutting as many as 500 jobs in Florida in response to reduced Black Hawk production, completed work and other shifts in manufacturing.

Sikorsky said it expects the U.S. Army to operate the UH-60M Black Hawk aircraft platform into the 2070s.

The Black Hawk became a household name with a 2001 movie, “Black Hawk Down,” based on a book about the attack by Somalis who brought down two helicopters in 1993.

With a 9,000-pound payload and seating for 14, the Black Hawk “hit a sweet spot for the U.S. Army’s medium-lift requirements” and is used worldwide for humanitarian relief, combat search and rescue, military purposes, firefighting, VIP transport and other missions, Sikorsky said.


© 2018 The Hartford Courant (Hartford, Conn.)

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.